Bible Software Review: By way of an introduction, please give us any personal information you'd like to share with our readers...
Brandon Staggs: Since I was a child programming on a Commodore 64, I have always desired to write software people would use. Back then, I wanted to write games. I have also had a love for the Bible since I was in High School, and SwordSearcher is the result of the combination of my enjoyment of computer programming and love for Scripture. And although I have written several small games, it is far more satisfying to be able to provide software that people will use to enhance their study of the Bible.
BSR: When did your company start, and why did you feel the need to set this project off?
BS: SwordSearcher Bible Software started with the name "Bible Assistant" as a simple command-line DOS Bible searcher. It was primarily a programming exercise at the time, but developed into far more. Bible Assistant 1.0 was released in 1994. For version two, Bible Assistant was renamed to SwordSearcher, and while still a DOS program, it became a mouse-controlled study tool.
SwordSearcher 2.0 is still included on the latest SwordSearcher Deluxe CD-ROM, just in case anyone is interested in the history of the program.
When Windows 95 was released, I decided it was time to take SwordSearcher to the next level and promptly rebuilt the program as a Windows application. And as far as I know, SwordSearcher was the first Bible program available for download that was specifically designed for the then-new 32-bit Windows environment. That was version 3, which at the time I called "SwordSearcher 95."
SwordSearcher is now in its fourth major revision. Since its fourth revision, the increasing popularity of SwordSearcher has allowed me to make Bible software design my full-time job.
Since its inception, SwordSearcher has been provided as shareware. I've never had the means to market my software as a full-blown commercial/retail endeavor. Shareware allowed my software to be distributed widely and tested by people before they spent any money on the program. The meaning of shareware has evolved quite a bit since then, but now it basically means that potential users can download and try the software before they commit to a purchase.
If your readers are interested in learning more about shareware, they should check out the Association of Shareware Professionals, of which I am a member.
BSR: What is your current role in the company?
BS: I write the software. I do the design. I do the marketing. I handle all customer enquiries and fill all the orders.
There is an unfortunate aspect of being an independent developer. Some people start with the impression that an independent developer can't produce a high-quality product. But on the contrary, the intense focus that an individual programmer has, combined with a passion to do the work the right way, often produces products that easily compete with the "big boys."
BSR: When you look back, what would you identify as being the single greatest feat in the history of Bible software?
BS: It isn't necessarily a "feat" of Bible software, but putting Bible study material on CD-ROM may well be one of the greatest points in the history of Bible software. Instead of hundreds of pounds of books, a piece of plastic weighing about an ounce usually has all most people would ever need for reference material. When one considers areas of the world where Bible material is banned, the ability to put it all on CD-ROM is invaluable.
BSR: What segment of Bible software users do you consider to be your main target?
BS: Since SwordSearcher is designed with my personal needs of Bible study at its core, it is primarily targeted to average Bible-believing Christians. Though the feature set of SwordSearcher has grown considerably and continues to grow as I develop it, I do not add features that I do not think will benefit believing Bible study. There are also many functions of SwordSearcher designed for people who need to get Bible text and references fast; whether it be for online evangelism or building sermons.
BSR: In your opinion, what are the three most salient features of your application?
BS: 1. SwordSearcher's "Verse Guide." The verse guide allows you to instantly index all of the library resources of SwordSearcher by verse or passage. Say you want to study what people have said about John 1:12,13. Just type the reference into the Topic and Verse Guide, and immediately you will have every Dictionary, Encyclopedia, Book, and Commentary text that references one of those verses. It is sort of a reverse-lookup function, so that in addition to being able to search the reference books by their topics as their authors indexed them, you can also study them by specific verses or passages. SwordSearcher is designed to do this particular function fast. All of the verse indexing is already done in the program's data files, so you don't have to wait minutes while the program searches for verse references: it's instantaneous.
2. Robust context menus. Windows users who know their computer love to right-click things! I know I do. Right-clicking a verse brings up every option that you would want in that context, such as copying the verse to the clipboard, or a range of verses starting with that verse, or doing a verse guide index (mentioned above) on that verse, etc. When I am using SwordSearcher and I think of something I need to do often and fast, it goes on a context menu.
3. Pop-up verse text display. Hovering your mouse pointer over a verse reference link in commentaries, dictionaries, and other books will "pop up" the text of the verse reference, so that you don't need to really "go there" unless you want to take your Bible study in that direction.
There are many more salient features I can think of! I hope your readers will visit the SwordSearcher website and check them out.
BSR: If you had to recommend the use of Bible software to someone who has never been exposed to it before, how would you go about it?
BS: I would ask them how they typically study the Bible and show them how it can be done faster with software. If they ever use a concordance, then Bible software is immediately beneficial for them, because Bible software means no more page turning. Just type in the word you want, and the verses are shown instantly.
This feature alone should help someone move into computer aided Bible study. Further, the ability to index thousands of pages of text by verse reference is nearly impossible to do with paper-based study, but is a snap with SwordSearcher.
No software can replace the Holy Spirit in Bible study, but software designed right can virtually eliminate the time wasted turning pages and just looking for the right reference or dictionary entry.
BSR: Why do you think people should consider using your software?
BS: I believe I have designed an application that will benefit anyone who uses it in their Bible study. Since it is completely free to download and evaluate, there is no reason not to try it. The download doesn't even require you to give any personal information to access.
The design of SwordSearcher 4 really is unique. Other than some superficial resemblances to other products, I think most people would agree that SwordSearcher is different.
BSR: What is the primary use you make of your own software?
BS: As I indicated before, SwordSearcher is mainly about believing Bible study, and this is how I use it. I also make heavy use of SwordSearcher's clipboard support for quickly copying Bible verse text into emails and other documents.
BSR: Is there any feature lacking in Bible software in general that you would love to see implemented soon?
BS: This doesn't really apply to Bible software design specifically, but I would like to see the handheld platforms advance to the point where they could run existing complex Bible software without limitation or redesign. Many of my users would like SwordSearcher on their Pocket PC. The problem is that because of the limitations of the platform, so much would have to be removed from the software that it would no longer really be SwordSearcher.
I realize this doesn't directly answer your question, as this is more of a hardware development issue than a software issue, but it is the first thing that comes to mind.
BSR: Are there any specific plans to port the software to other platforms? (Mac, Linux, PDA...)
BS: I still have a lot of things I want to do with the Windows version of SwordSearcher, and since that's where most computer users are, that's where I will stay for the near future. But I am constantly evaluating both the Pocket PC and Linux platforms for possible development.
BSR: Besides English, is or will your software be available in other languages in the foreseeable future?
BS: Other than a few non-English Bible texts, SwordSearcher isn't available in languages other than English. There are no immediate plans to support other languages in the interface.
BSR: From your perspective, what should Bible software be heading for in the years to come?
BS: I would like to see more people using Bible software. I have talked with a lot of people who are both computer users and Bible students, but haven't seen a need for Bible software. I'd like them to see what a blessing it is to have the right Bible software for their study. So I guess my answer to this question is that I would like to see Bible software become ubiquitous among Christians.
BSR: Would you like to add or share anything not covered in the previous questions?
BS: Just that I really hope your readers will take a moment to check SwordSearcher out. I've got a lot of customers who have spent literally thousands of dollars on other Bible software packages and have switched to SwordSearcher (which costs less than $40) because of its design. SwordSearcher also has some resources you won't currently find in other packages, such as Clarence Larkin's Rightly Dividing the Word or Osborne's Biblical History. SwordSearcher also includes a lot of resources for help with studying the King James Bible, like the King James Bible Companion and Webster's 1828 Dictionary.
BSR: Thank you so much for your time!